Each year, the American Council for Education bestows its ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation on two U.S. colleges.
The nominations are split into institutions with student populations above 12,000 and institutions with student populations up to 12,000.
This year the winners are UC San Diego (above 12,000) and Michigan’s own Davenport University (up to 12,000).
The award was created to “recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period.” While it has been given out annually since 2014 and is always an honor, the 2020/2021 school year posed severe challenges and was emotionally taxing on students and academic institutions.
“The most challenging effort for everyone was to support and protect the mental health of our community during the pandemic,” said Davenport President Dr. Richard Pappas. “We put a significant effort into making sure counseling and support resources were available for not only our students but our staff and faculty as well.
“These achievements wouldn’t be possible without the support of Davenport’s board of trustees and our incredibly talented faculty and staff who bring our mission, vision, and values to life,” Pappas added.
Debra Frey, head of Analytics and Marketing for Tax-Exempt Solutions, Fidelity Investments, acknowledged the additional burden the pandemic has created and praised the universities.
“UC San Diego and Davenport University found creative and productive ways to respond [to the pandemic] and lead their institutions forward,” she said.
Davenport is the first school from Michigan to receive the award.
“To receive the American Council on Education and Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation, which represents recognition by one of the most respected organizations in the country, is very humbling for our institution,” Pappas said.
Over a decade ago, Davenport began using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence for Education, a framework created by Congress in 1987 for businesses, then expanded to education in 1999.
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology defines it as “a non prescriptive framework that empowers your organization to reach its goals, improve results, and become more competitive.”
Since Davenport began using the criteria, their student graduation rates have risen 174%. Fall retention improved by 28%, and 2020 graduate satisfaction was 95%.
Last year the University became the first school to receive the Michigan Performance Excellence State Baldrige Award from the Michigan Performance Excellence (MIPEx).
“This recognition is tangible proof of our commitment to achieve the highest level of education and business outcomes for our students,” Pappas said of the ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation.
After the ACE Award and MIPEx award, Pappas has no intention of slowing down.
Pappas pointed out Davenport is embracing a new five-year vision that will “focus on helping students at all levels and backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status, achieve success.”
“We intend to change the dynameics of higher education by supporting our students not just through graduation but by ensuring that they have high-paying, future-focused careers that make a difference for employers and our state,” Pappas said.
The university now has its eyes set on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.